THE LAPLACE’S DEMON is an Italian thriller that explores an age-old question: does free will exist? Sure, hundreds of movies have tackled this question, but a film doesn’t need to be original to be good. So, is the movie good? Well…it’s not that simple. My thoughts on this movie are complicated. I watched it several times just to make sense of my own opinion. The best I can say is that it’s almost perfect, but fails to stick the landing.

THE LAPLACE’S DEMON – The Premise

THE LAPLACE’S DEMON follows a group of mathematicians trying to create a formula that predicts physical behavior. To perfect their simulation, they enlist the help of an eccentric scientist. After traveling to his mansion on a private island, they discover that they’re guinea pigs in his own experiment. Put simply, he’s discovered a formula that can predict human behavior, and to prove it, he’s created a machine that plays out their actions in real-time. To make matters worse, people in the house begin disappearing, and the group needs to find a way out before it’s too late. In short, it’s a classic horror movie setup with an intellectual twist.

A Dreamlike Experience

While watching this film, the first thing you’ll notice is its distinct visual style. From the start, the movie disorients you. It’s impossible to tell when this film is set. People smoke pipes and talk about telegraph messages while running complex simulations on modern laptops. People use VHS tapes and pocket watches, but check their cell phones for a signal.  The film itself is in black and white, but the creators are clearly using modern cameras.

The mansion is defined by visual oddities. There’s a TV in the fireplace, surrounded by firewood, playing a video of the burning fire. There are telephones in the house, but they’re purely for decoration. The house itself is precariously perched on a narrow cliff and constantly looks like it’s about to fall over. Then there’s the machine predicting their actions, which looks like something from a steampunk fantasy world. Believe it or not, it reminds me a bit of IT FOLLOWS in the way it disorients the viewer with its dream-like quality.

It’s Unreal

Nothing in this movie looks quite “real.” It often feels like the actors aren’t actually there, and the effects are just as anachronistic as the rest of the film. The way the machine spins and shifts feel like stop-motion, but there’s clearly CG applied to it. Shots of the mansion look more like dollhouse props than an actual home.

THE LAPLACE'S DEMON
God, this movie looks old and weird. I love it.

These aren’t criticisms. While I’m sure this movie had a low budget, I’m convinced these choices were intentional. THE LAPLACE’S DEMON feels like a dream, a film outside of time and unbound by our perceptions of reality. I can’t praise this movie’s style enough. Often, when a film tries to look old and strange, it comes off as “too artsy” or pretentious. But THE LAPLACE’S DEMON feels earnest in its visual direction. I want to see more films like this from the director. I’d love to see him direct a fantasy movie.

Unfortunately, as the movie goes on the visuals become more mundane. A lot of time is spent in a single room, with only the machine to provide eye-candy. It’s not that the rest of the movie is boring to look at, not in the slightest. It’s just that it began with such a bold style that it left me wanting more. I wish they could have explored the house a bit more, and given us more opportunities to marvel at the director’s vision.

Nonstop Tension

In any thriller, a sense of tension is key to the experience. These films rely on tone, narrative, and dialogue to keep us on the edge of our seats. In this sense, THE LAPLACE’S DEMON is a success. The film uses timing, lighting, and anticipation to drive its action. While watching, you quickly learn that the experiment has rules, and you begin anxiously anticipating events before they happen.

Several action scenes play out within the machine, with chess pawns representing the cast. Ironically, this minimalist approach increases the tension of the film. In horror, the things you can‘t see are often scarier than the things that you can. These scenes are a perfect example of this principle. It’s also just surreal watching a bunch of chess pawns moves through a dollhouse, with muffled screams echoing in the background. It all adds to the surreal, off-kilter nature of this film.

THE LAPLACE'S DEMON
The film makes good use of lighting and cinematography. It all adds to the tension of the film.

The film is deeply engrossing. Just as the characters were trying to beat the experiment, so was I. My mind was constantly racing with ideas and theories that could “break” the scientist’s formula. Because the film tackles such an essential question, I felt a personal stake in the conflict. Much of the tension is rooted in the music. The soundtrack is almost constant and enhances the mood of every scene. It harkens back to classic horror movies from the black and white era. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it does what it sets out to do, and does so perfectly.

An Unsatisfying End

It’s unfortunate that, as engaged as I was in the movie’s narrative, its thematic weight fell apart toward the end. As the film goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that it only has one thing to say. The movie maintains a single note throughout, leaving nothing ambiguous about its central theme. Look, it’s perfectly fine for a film to make a solid, clear argument, but if you don’t introduce anything to challenge it, or leave any room for ambiguity, then you’re not left with much to think about. Take the famous ending of INCEPTION for example. The themes of the movie are clear. The director’s argument is clear, but there’s still room for ambiguity and dissenting opinions. Not just about whether or not Cobb is dreaming, but whether or not it matters.

Compare the final shot of this film to the final shot of INCEPTION, and tell me which has more weight to it.

Was THE LAPLACE’S DEMON Satisfying?

THE LAPLACE’S DEMON fails to walk this line, and this becomes increasingly clear toward the end of the film. Most of these final scenes are great in isolation but ring hollow in the context of the movie. Because it’s been telling us one thing throughout, these moments lack any sort of surprise or emotional weight. They just reinforce what we already know. And then there’s the “twist.” I have such mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it leads to the most thrilling conversation in the movie. On the other hand, it creates all sorts of plot holes that don’t get resolved with a second viewing. Let me be frank: for the majority of this movie, I expected it to be the best thing I’ve reviewed for ComicsVerse. I have never seen a movie start off so great, only to fall apart in the last 20 minutes.

But that still leaves the rest of the movie, which was a thrill to watch. Even if the ending left me unsatisfied, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Sure, it’s rough around the edges, but I can still recommend it. Maybe not as something you pay full price at a theater for, but definitely as a rental or part of a streaming service. This is the kind of movie you watch at home on a cold night with a stiff drink. The kind of movie that raises unsettling questions about the world and your place in it. THE LAPLACE’S DEMON comes to US theaters on February 22nd, 2019.

If you’re in the mood for a cerebral thriller, give it a watch. Just don’t expect perfection.

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